Charles Darwin’s Rare Autographed Manuscript Could Sell for $800,000

The English naturalist was responding to a magazine editor who had asked for a handwriting sample

Darwin's signature
Darwin's signature on the note Courtesy of Sotheby's

A manuscript autographed by Charles Darwin is going up for auction, and it could sell for up to $800,000.

The 1865 document is a rare example of the English naturalist’s full signature, as he often signed his name with abbreviations like Ch, Ch. Darwin or C. Darwin, per Sotheby’s, which is selling the document as part of its Age of Wonder auction that starts in November. The existence of the note itself is also rare because Darwin often threw away his notes and drafts or used them as scrap paper; his children also drew or wrote on their father’s discarded manuscript pages.

The handwritten text contains a passage from On the Origin of Species, the groundbreaking evolutionary biology publication Darwin published in 1859, as well as some of Darwin’s additional thoughts on the subject.

Darwin wrote the document by hand in response to a request from Hermann Kindt, the editor of the Autographic Mirror, a magazine that covered influential people, per Sotheby’s. Kindt asked Darwin for a sample of his handwriting so that he could reprint it in the publication. Darwin responded in the fall of 1865, which is four years after he published the third edition of On the Origin of Species. Experts had previously misidentified the note as a draft passage from that third edition.

The note
Sotheby's is auctioning off the 1865 text and expects it to sell for up to $800,000. Courtesy of Sotheby's

He wrote to Kindt: “I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent, by the preservation or the natural selection of many successive slight favourable variations. I cannot believe that a false theory would explain, as it seems to me that the theory of natural selection does explain, the several large classes of facts above specified. It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life.”

Darwin also referenced beliefs he only included in the third edition of On the Origin of Species.

With his groundbreaking work, Darwin made a “seismic impact” on not only 19th-century science and culture, but also on future generations, says Richard Austin, global head of books and manuscripts for Sotheby’s, in a statement.

Darwin spent years writing his magnum opus after sailing around the globe aboard the H.M.S. Beagle from 1831 to 1836, a voyage that ultimately helped shape his theory of evolution through natural selection. Darwin’s daily writing routine was fairly relaxed and consisted of lots of breaks for meals, family time and walks. He ironed out his theories as he wrote, often crossing out his ideas and writing over them or sketching out diagrams and drawings. Anyone can view his many scribbled drafts online, thanks to a 2008 digitalization project led by Cambridge University.

When Darwin first published On the Origin of Species, the text sold out immediately—even though it directly contradicted the story of creation in the Bible. Scientists generally accepted his conclusions by the time he died in 1882.

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